ME BEFORE YOU Review

If you're buying a ticket to Me Before You you know what you're getting yourself into. The movie itself, based on the novel by Jojo Moyes (who also penned the screenplay) and directed by first time feature director Thea Sharrock, knows what it is and has no qualms with embracing the tropes of the romantic drama genre. Its ultimate goal is to have tears flowing from your eyes as you leave the theater and if you are indeed buying a ticket to Me Before You and subsequently crying as the credits roll you are probably happy with said purchase. That is what audiences are looking for from a movie like this and for the most part, Me Before You delivers. What isn't necessarily expected from such a film, but that Me Before You tends to deliver in spades, is an endearing quality of humanity. It isn't anything new to find a relative nature to the characters at the core of the conflict in movies such as this, but with our two leads here Moyes smartly adds another layer to their relationship that takes it beyond being non-traditional and not just based on if issues of the heart will keep them together or draw them apart. Rather, this caveat elevates the story to one that forces us to contemplate the courage needed to redirect a life that has been thrown completely off course. That may sound slightly dramatic in itself given the tone this film initially takes on is quite affable, but when it comes down to it-when the relationship has been developed and the tears inevitably shed there is left a large amount of respect for Me Before You for not only embracing the recurring archetypes of its genre, but for daring to try to improve upon them. Whether this be through the act of stronger characterization in our female lead than typically seen, the sometimes downright dislikable nature of the male lead or the generally high quality of acting on display-there is something pedigreed and understated about the final product that allows skeptical audiences to appreciate its willingness to improve upon acknowledged tropes while pleasing the target audience in a way they may not have known to be possible before. All in all, Me Before You is a tearjerker that earns that title through improving on and adding to the familiar while still hitting every box on the genre checklist.

Louisa (Emilia Clarke) and her sister Treena (Jenna Coleman) discuss Lou's new job as a caretaker for the illustrious Traynor family.
We are introduced to the beaming Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) as she tends to customers at The Buttered Bun tea shop before her facial expression changes as her boss hands her a months' worth of pay and the news he's shutting down the shop. This is bad news for Louisa, affectionately called Lou by those who love her, as her job at the tea shop has been helping her struggling mom and dad stay afloat. The Clark gang, consisting of Grandad (Alan Breck) father Bernard (Brendan Coyle), mother Josie (Samantha Spiro), and younger sister Treena (Jenna Coleman) who has a child of her own, is living paycheck to paycheck and the loss of Lou's job hits them all hard. And so, it is with great pressure that Lou walks into an interview at the Traynor estate with hopes of securing a position to provide care and companionship for a disabled man. Walking into the interview Lou doesn't know that the disabled man is the son of the woman with whom she is speaking. Camilla Traynor (Janet McTeer) and her husband Stephen (Charles Dance) live in a wealthy world where the castle on the hill is owned by them, but since a motorcycle accident left their son paralyzed and living as a quadriplegic for the past two years they've been unable to spend any amount of money on anything that might bring him happiness. It is in something of a desperate attempt that Camilla is looking for someone like Louisa who might bring some kind of joy to her son. Upon first meeting the intelligent and also very wealthy Will (Sam Claflin) it is apparent this is a very angry man. Though Mrs. Traynor's intentions are understandable the likelihood of such a plan working seem slim in the beginning as Will treats Lou as he does everyone else: with a certain amount of contempt and disregard. Of course, as both Will and the audience come to know Louisa both can't help but to be charmed by her outlandish wardrobe and sparkling personality. Adding a burst of color to his monochromatic world, the unavoidable happens when Will and Louisa begin to develop an affection for one another that simultaneously brings both an untapped pleasure as well as further complications to both of their lives.

Though it can be said that Me Before You is a co-lead situation with Clarke and Claflin leading a surprisingly strong ensemble cast this is clearly Clarke's film. From the outset we watch as the events of the film play out from her characters perspective so that it is maybe more sad without being as depressing were we to see things through Will's eyes. This brings about the fine line that not only Claflin and Clarke have to walk with their performances, but that Moyes had to navigate in her novel and screenplay as well as Sharrock did in pinpointing just the right tone. Overall, the film is more consistently funny than I expected given the subject matter, but this is largely to deter the character of Will from his grim reality as much as it is the audience. It is only in small intercessions that we are brought back down to earth in order to remind us that despite the effervescent glow Lou brings to both Will's life and the screen-that it can only ever be temporary. As Lou, Clarke makes an indelible (if you haven't already seen her in Game of Thrones, which I haven't) impression as the bubbly, but sadly stalled young woman of twenty-six that has a steady boyfriend, but no ambitions of getting married or leaving the small, sleepy town where she has resided her entire life. These insecurities and limited experiences lend well to the dynamic that is created between she and Will as he was a well-traveled, adventurous, and successful businessman (of course, he had every advantage possible at his fingertips) before his accident. Clarke brings her expressive eyebrows and warm smile to Louisa in a way that allows such features to cover-up the fact she isn't actually experiencing life in a way that will render it any meaning in retrospect. The catch here is that Will has-he used those aforementioned advantages to live a life full of grand experiences, but that he can't take such advantages anymore leads to certain realizations on his part. He comes to see how much he took for granted prior to meeting Louisa with her presence suddenly allowing him to live out this drive and sense of excitement through her-as someone who could have never thought to expound their energies in the same way Will once did. As Will, Claflin has the difficult task of playing a man who is miserable and often rude while having to also become charming enough that we root for he and Louisa to complement one another in the way that he might actually take an interest in his own future if he's allowed to become an integral part of hers.

Lou and Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) take a rare excursion to listen to the orchestra.
Though the destination is important and certainly key to the overall themes and ideas Moyes was looking to discuss with her book and by adapting her own novel for the screen it is largely the journey that develops these motifs in a way that allows for the destination to resonate in expected ways, but on unexpected levels. Sharrock documents the developing feelings between our two central characters with expected montages set to Ed Sheeran while paralleling the fantastical with the underlying fact that Will seeks to end his own life and the discussions and ramifications that have to eventually be had and dealt with because of that. It is this aspect that lends the two characters to be as introspective with themselves as they are outward about the feelings they have for one another. By painting this picture of these individuals dealing with such circumstances there comes to be something more eloquent and honest about the relationship at the heart of the film when it could have just as easily been portrayed as a plot point to garner more tears. Both Moyes in her writing and Sharrock in her bringing of these words to the screen is able to capture the humanity in the situation and the difficult, but truthful pill that must be swallowed in order for the film to hold fast to those honest and eloquent descriptors. It would be easy to call the film formulaic as it does heed many of the same beats as any number of love stories that have ever been put to screen, but that it also cares to provoke stinging emotions such as reducing a man who once held all the power over his life he could imagine to that of whether to continue living or not certainly adds a fair amount of weight to your proceedings. Neither Moyce nor Sharrock wallow in this decision though, but rather leave it looming with the hope that Lou's presence might be enough to cause Will hesitance. Whether you know the ending or not it is accomplished in a way that doesn't feel as if it's being done for nothing, but that there is very much a redemptive quality to it-an atonement of sorts that allows one to retain a sense of pride and power over their life and the other a chance to live theirs.